Not Members-Only

Posted April 23, 2007 at 6:44pm

While the rest of Washington, D.C., did its best this weekend to pretend that it’s more glamorous than it is, Members of Congress were decidedly a low-profile presence at the White House Correspondents Dinner. [IMGCAP(1)]

This year, a smaller and less-social group of Members turned out for the glitzy grin-a-thon at the Washington Hilton than they have in years past. One notable exception, though, was Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who partied hard — or at least long — at the pre-parties, the dinner itself and two of the glammest after-parties. Collins, looking fierce in a strapless gown and sans date, mingled with celebs at the Bloomberg after-party, and after exiting the fête, hopped into a waiting car.

Good night, little Susie, we thought. But wait, not so fast! There she was, just a little bit later, doing some more mingling into the wee hours at the Capitol File party, where plenty of guests turned up for post-Bloomberg turns.

Aside from Collins, whom HOH is dubbing unofficial Prom Queen, Members were almost a no-show at the after-parties, save for a few hardy souls. Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) made a brief stop at Bloomberg, with starlet Morgan Fairchild on his arm. And perhaps trying to make up for the tame showing of his Congressional brethren, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) took an (awkward!) spin on the Capitol File dance floor with one of the event’s scantily clad hired dancers.

Staffers — who, unlike their bosses, turned out in full force and with proverbial bells on — speculated that the week’s tragedy at Virginia Tech put many elected officials in fear of public displays of frivolity. “Between being afraid of the ethics rules and the Tech stuff, I don’t think they’re in a partying mood,” one House staffer surmised.

And since comedian Rich Little bombed, the dinner itself was forgettable and the guest list was mostly snooze-inducing, maybe the Members who watched the whole thing unfold from couches back in their district had the right idea.

Cheap Cuts. Former Sen. John Edwards’(D-N.C.) $400 haircut might look really good, but New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) can get it for ya cheaper. Spitzer got a referral from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) for a Big Apple barber, where the two pols now get $26 trims.

Spitzer was overheard at the Willard Hotel’s Round Robin bar before the WHCD on Saturday night regaling his wife and a group of friends with the story of how Bloomberg told him that the best part about the cut was that since the barber owned the salon, you didn’t have to tip. But big-spender Spitzer says he paid with $40 and challenged Bloomberg to be a better tipper.

And don’t be fooled by Spitzer’s take-no-prisoners style of prosecution from his days as the Empire State’s attorney general — when it comes to disciplining his daughters, Spitzer’s wife says he’s a pushover. Spitzer, on the phone with his daughter, relented and allowed her to go out that evening, even though he had “grounded her for life” the day before. After he hung up, his wife chided him for being a “softie.”

So mega-millionaire Bloomberg’s a chintzy tipper and hard-nosed Spitzer’s really a patsy.

Oh, the things that are revealed at the Willard’s bar.

Rep. Shutterbugs. Usually, it’s Members of Congress who have to deal with pesky photogs constantly snapping their every move. But on a visit to the White House on Monday where they met with some big-time VIPs, some Members happily morphed into the paparazzi themselves.

During an event to honor the 2007 Super Bowl champs, the Indianapolis Colts, President Bush interrupted his remarks to call out to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who happened to be walking by. Rice, an avid football fan, obliged and approached the pack of NFL-ers. The football players eagerly shook Rice’s hand and clearly wanted to take photos with her.

Members of the Indiana delegation, including Reps. Brad Ellsworth (D), Dan Burton (R), Mike Pence (R) and Mark Souder (R) happily stepped in, taking the players’ cameras and snapping some shots for their scrapbooks. One former House staffer who witnessed the newly minted Congressional press corps was amused at the Members being pressed into service. “It wasn’t really a hard sell given that it was Condoleezza Rice and the Colts,” he said.

Open and Shut. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving.” That’s how CBS’ Steve Chaggaris, chairman of the House Radio-Television Correspondents’ Committee, described the promise by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), made at the beginning of this session, that Democrats would run the most open Congress ever.

That ammo was partly the reason Chaggaris and fellow TV reporters won a spat Monday that started when House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) decided that cameras would be kept out of a Friday committee meeting, only to reverse course when he and Democratic leaders realized they had a revolt — and a PR headache — on their hands.

Obey’s office last Friday informed reporters that TV and still cameras would be permitted into the meeting of a conference committee on the supplemental spending bill to fund the Iraq War — but only for a photo-op, after which the cameras were to be sent packing, although the meeting was still open to reporters wielding notebooks.

The outraged lensers on Monday fired off a letter to Obey and Pelosi complaining of the treatment. In the missive, the group took a dig at Pelosi’s promises of transparency, the need for public scrutiny of the new Democratic leadership’s handling of the Iraq War and favoritism among the various media.

House rules require that any meeting open to the public also be open to media, providing there aren’t space or security constraints. But the Monday meeting was actually a conference committee gathering, so House rules wouldn’t apply, although a House Republican staffer said the decision at least violated “the spirit” of the House rules. Reporters said Obey’s staffers cited “precedent” in keeping cameras out, although staffers say some conference committees have permitted cameras and others have not. An Obey spokeswoman didn’t return a call seeking comment.

By mid-afternoon, faced with a crowd of ticked-off TV folk, Obey and company relented. The committee informed the camera crowd that C-SPAN would be permitted into the room and would provide a “pool” feed that other TV news outlets could use.

“I’m glad we prevailed on this,” Chaggaris said. “We know we won’t be allowed everywhere, but if you’re going to keep us out, we at least need a reason.”

Roll ’em.

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